A couple of EYE readers last month accused me of non-disclosure and self-promotion – so I thought I’d make my position clearer.
I run The Partnership – a property law firm. Most agents that work with us like our approach.
However, we frustrate some and we have been known to “drop the ball”.
This article is a personal opinion from the coalface on why we think agents find it difficult to get to speak to lawyers.
Which sometimes can include us.
Right – now we’ve got that out the way, let’s have a look at what is going on here.
What is it that agents want?
It’s pretty simple – agents want communicative lawyers. As Homer Simpson would say – “Doh”.
Like the simplistic “Get Brexit Done”, this is actually quite tricky.
Especially as they also want to speak to someone who knows what is going on in their case.
So why is it so difficult to actually speak to an informed conveyancer, and what is the answer?
The key issue
Most law firms are owned and run by lawyers who come from a world where you did everything yourself.
This is most clearly shown by the issue of who gives quotes to prospective clients.
Our experience of mystery shopping shows it is actually quite difficult to get a quote over the telephone because the lawyer (who is the only person that does the quotes) is not available.
It’s no wonder those companies selling self-service quoting websites are finding a willing audience amongst over-stretched law firms.
The problem is, the suggestion that a suitably trained salesperson (and to be clear, we are not talking about call handlers in panel management companies) could have an informed discussion with a prospect, will be waved away with derision.
“Clients expect to speak with a qualified lawyer who understands the process” is the common view.
Unfortunately, those qualified lawyers are usually too busy working for other clients to have the time to take that call.
In this never-changing world, enabling telephones to be answered by someone who might be able to have a relevant conversation about the conveyancing process is way down the average partner’s agenda.
Conveyancing is a busy activity
There is a lot of snobbery about conveyancing.
Some consider it to be simple, mostly administrative work.
However, in reality, it requires an unusual combination of people skills, commercial acumen and legal knowledge. Finding this combination in one person is tricky.
Time is not spent contemplating the ins and outs of legal minutiae, but instead, problem solving and applying the law to each unique case. Coordinating answers from various sources means a property lawyer’s telephone is constantly ringing and availability of time is very limited.
When a lawyer is spending 45 minutes on the telephone to a mortgage lender, it’s no surprise they can’t take a call from an agent trying to get an answer for his client.
The challenge is being able to spread the work amongst several people, but ensuring that each is informed on every case that they are working on.
Lack of technology
Although law firms recognise that conveyancing is a manual process, there is still little uptake of the pityingly small amount of decent technology that is on offer.
Without technology, the process of accessing information on a case is much more time consuming, tying up even more resource.
Most law firms still rely on physical files, so the individual has to be in the same room as the paperwork.
If the lawyer is not available for whatever reason, it is difficult for someone else to help out with a telephone enquiry about the case. Either the information is inaccessible due to physical location, or worse, it is held in the lawyers’ head.
Is there a solution?
Firstly, lawyers need to recognise that there are certain elements of their role that they can give up. Typically, pre-instruction and post-completion can be delegated to other, trained people. Specialisation is key.
Secondly, they need to understand that to achieve this specialisation, they must charge enough money to afford to invest in training more people and deploying good technology. Owners need to have the confidence to walk away from low-fee work and spend time and effort winning the work directly. With good service come strong referrals which bring with them better fees.
Finally, lawyers must be able to get hold of the information they need quickly and efficiently. For this, they must move to a paperless environment. All documents and case information must be immediately available to them or their colleagues.
Property lawyers are fundamentally too busy to answer telephones because of out-dated work practices. They need to break the circle of poor quality service which in turn impacts fees they can charge to enable them to afford to employ and train people needed to support them.
* Peter Ambrose is founder of independent conveyancing firm The Partnership